TAMPA, Fla. — Even before Boston College and Ferris State began captains’ practices, Mike Krivens was already involved in detailed planning for this year’s broadcast of the Frozen Four.
Krivens, the operations producer for ESPN’s broadcast, makes sure all of the pieces come together.
For complete Frozen Four coverage, visit USCHO's Frozen Four Central.
ESPN started working with the NCAA on logistical details last August. Krivens made his first advance visit to Tampa in December to meet with the NCAA, to “shake hands” with local officials, and to check out the Tampa Bay Times Forum to verify broadcast logistics and “particularly cameras,” Krivens explained, “because our cameras sometimes displace — what are those called? — seats.”
As April 5 drew closer, it was time for more members of the ESPN team to get involved. Frozen Four broadcast producer Joe Taylor began by gathering information from the participant schools for play-by-play announcer Gary Thorne, color commentator Barry Melrose and ice-side reporter Clay Matvick.
“I basically inundate them with as much information as I possibly can so that they feel they are well versed on each team,” Taylor said.
“It’s really a start from scratch for me,” said Thorne. “So I’ve got to go back on the four teams that are here and go back and take a look at their entire season — the names, the stars, the stories.”
The advance work of Krivens and Taylor paid off as the production crew of about 60 arrived in Tampa and got things running in just two long days.
Truck engineers came in on Tuesday to set up the production trucks, cameras, microphones and satellite equipment.
The production staff had a long first day on site on Wednesday, getting a 9 a.m. start and working until 8 p.m., while video editors were working until 2 a.m. on the “tease,” the highly produced 45-second opening to the broadcast.
Taylor and the broadcasters also met with players and coaches from each of the four participating teams on Wednesday.
Many of the players are not used to this level of media attention, so Taylor likes to make them feel comfortable.
“If you get four or five of them together and they’ve got their teammates with them, they can kind of joke around and they’re more likely to give you honest answers,” Taylor explained. “Then we bring the kids in one-on-one for sound bites and stuff, and we bring the coach in to go one-on-one with our talent.”
After their day of preparation at the arena, the production team was busy on game day pulling together video, sound and graphic elements of the broadcast.
Seth Miller and Mark Vidonic preassembled on-screen graphics for the semifinal games, including statistics, team matchups and other information, and were ready to add more as the games went on.
“I’m pretty much the producer of this area, so when there’s a trend growing or a story line developing, I’ll sell it to [the producer and director],” said Miller. “They’re not usually in tune to these kinds of things. I’m more of the stats; they’re more of the replays and content.”
In the back of the production truck, Chris Allen, one of the audio engineers for the broadcast, manned a 64-input digital audio console to mix on-ice sound, the bands, theme music and the announcers.
Meanwhile, video switchers Mark Newell and Rich Bizan controlled the video for 20 cameras. Some camera operators are mobile, allowing the broadcast to seem as if it has even more than 20.
“For instance, camera ’10′, he has like 10 drops (camera cable connections),” said Bizan. “He has one wire that’s on the ice, but he has 10 other places to go. So it looks like we have a million cameras, because he’s all over the place.”
Staff in the tape room, overseen by ESPN’s Bear Bryant, were busy both preparing for the game and editing replays during the game.
“It’s called a tape room, but it’s no longer tape,” said Bryant. “These are like TiVos on steroids.”
A bank of digital machines are always recording during a broadcast, storing the video of each camera to hard drives, which allows for immediate playback and editing.
– Joe Taylor, ESPN broadcast producer
“With it being all digital now, it’s much easier to manipulate,” said Bryant.
Also in the tape room is ESPN’s Advanced Replay Tool. Developed in-house, ART made its hockey debut during the NCAA regionals. ART allows high-quality animated graphics such as arrows and circles to be instantaneously embedded within a replay, providing Melrose greater visual resources when he breaks down a play.
Melrose sets the pace on what is going to be broken down during the game and what Joe Durante, who is operating ART for ESPN in Tampa, should look for.
“We know that Boston College is a pretty open team; they like to go for the home run,” said Durante. “So we’re going to see how some of those plays develop, their transition, things like that. Those are our main points going in. Then the game will dictate what’s happening. We tend to stay with some of the wider shots so you can get an overhead view of how a play is developing instead of tight shots.”
Once Durante has provided an ART-enhanced segment, he sends it to Bryant to be added to the library of clips in the tape room, ready to be aired at a moment’s notice.
“We’re very adaptable,” said Taylor. “We can break down a play very quickly during a break and get it on air for the audience to see. We have an idea what Barry’s looking for going in, but obviously we let the game play out and we go from there.”
During the program, Taylor is the main source of communication to the broadcast team. Melrose lets Taylor know when there’s a play he’d like to break down. Matvick will suggest story lines to Taylor during the game.
“Most of the time I’m communicating with them on where they’re going,” Taylor said. “We script the open and maybe the first story and then after that it’s really where the game takes us.”
The experience and chemistry of Thorne and Melrose makes the job easy, said Taylor.
“It’s great. It’s a pleasure to work with them,” he said. “Gary has got the golden pipes, and the two of them together — I sometimes just need to stay out of their way and let them do their job.”
Thorne and Melrose agree about the chemistry and said that they have developed a sense for each other’s timing.
“We’ve worked together for a pretty long time and have a pretty good feel, and when the puck gets near the net, I shut up and let Gary take it,” said Melrose. “The main rule that I’ve learned in my broadcast career as a color guy is the cardinal sin for me is if I’m talking when a goal goes in.”
Hockey, because of its pace, has its own unique requirements for the production team.
“I think the trick of hockey is — because you have so few breaks and fewer goals for the most part — is picking your spots as to when to get your production elements in and when to not,” said Taylor. “When you have guys like Gary and Barry, you just want to let them talk about the game.
“They’re so good at what they do. As long as we’re supporting them in the truck, they’re going to do their job and do it at a high level.”